Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Timothy Slekar

TESD ranks 4th in Pennsylvania for PSSA results but is it time to opt-out of standardized testing?

Spring is PSSA time for public schools in Pennsylvania and the results are in for 2013. The Pittsburgh Business Times has published their 2013 Guide of Western Pennsylvania Schools, which lists the rankings of all school districts in Pennsylvania. The analysis of the school district performance is based on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) Exam results. According to their website, the formula for the ranking takes into account three years of PSSA test scores in math, reading, writing and science. They look at three years of scores, with the current year given the most weight. The rankings do not denote the overall quality and performance of the school district, only the PSSA scores.

In the ‘Top 15’ school districts category in Pennsylvania, Allegheny County was the number one county with six school districts represented followed by Chester County with three school districts (Unionville-Chadds Ford, T/E and Great Valley), Delaware County with three school districts (Radnor, Wallingford-Swarthmore and Rose Tree Media) and Montgomery County with one school district (Lower Merion).

For 2013 rankings, Upper St. Clair School Districts holds onto its first place title for the ninth year in a row, with another Allegheny County school district, Mt. Lebanon moving into second place. This is the third year that I have tracked the top 15 school districts and in the chart below, you will note that Tredyffrin Easttown Township School District has dropped from its 2011 second place, to third place in 2012, to fourth place in 2013. The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District dropped their ranking from second in 2012 to third in 2013. Other main line school districts, Radnor Township School District dropped from fourth to sixth for 2013, Lower Merion dropped a level in rankings and Great Valley School District moved up from 14th to 13th place for 2013. Looking at other area school districts, Downingtown School District improved their rankings, from 25th to 24th and Phoenixville School District continues to drop in rankings, for 2o13 listed as 98th.

A Pennsylvania school district that places in the top 15 or 20 out of 500 districts statewide based on the PSSA exams is an achievement for which students, parents, teachers and administrators can all be proud. PSSA scores is viewed by many as a reliable predictor of future success. As a tool for student assessment, the PSSA exam helps measure and provide useful information of what students are learning. The PSSAs measure the performance of the entire class and provide of measurement of how an overall class is performing. But how important are PSSA exams, beyond bragging rights of a school district. Do children (and teachers) need this level of pressure to ‘measure up’?

Based on the varying socioeconomic advantages and disadvantages levels of school districts across the state, I don’t know how fair it is judge the work of entire school districts based on a series of standardized tests. Although evaluation is an important tool in learning, high-stakes tests, such as the PSSA exam, are being used to label students (as well as teachers and school districts). It is no wonder that there is rebellion among some parents not to allow their children to participate in the PSSA testing process.

I did not know that in Pennsylvania, a parent has the right to have their children exempted from taking the PSSA exams under PA Code Title 22 Chapter 4, Section 4 (d)(5):

“If upon inspection of State assessments parents or guardians find the assessment in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied upon written request to the applicable school district superintendent, charter school chief executive officer or AVTS director.”

The grounds for the exemption are “religious” but the parents do not have to explain what their faith is, what about the testing is in violation of their faith, or anything else. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, if you believe that it is morally wrong to put your kids through the ordeal of a week of testing, that’s good enough.

Timothy Slekar, head of the Department of Education, Penn State-Altoona and his wife decided to opt out of the PSSA exam for their son. Slekar included a copy of the letter in an article written for Huffington Post that can be used in Pennsylvania public schools by “people of most religious affiliations”. Slekar encourages readers “to copy, to cut, and to paste any or all portions of this letter for your own use in freeing a child from the pain of high-stakes standardized testing.” To read Slekar’s article and opt-out letter, click here.

Top 15 School Districts in Pennsylvania for 2013

2013 2012 2011 School District (County)
1 1 1 Upper St. Clair School District (Allegheny)
2 5 6 Mt. Lebanon School District (Allegheny)
3 2 3 Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (Chester)
4 3 2 Tredyffrin-Easttown School District (Chester)
5 6 5 North Allegheny School District (Allegheny)
6 4 4 Radnor Township School District (Delaware)
7 7 9 Hampton Township School District (Allegheny)
8 10 12 South Fayette Township School District (Allegheny)
9 8 7 Lower Merion School District (Montgomery)
10 9 8 Central Bucks School District (Bucks)
11 13 15 Wallingford-Swarthmore School District (Delaware)
12 12 11 Fox Chapel Area School District (Allegheny)
13 14 13 Great Valley School District (Chester
14 11 11 Peters Township School District (Washington)
15 19 19 Rose Tree Media School District (Delaware)



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